Lazy Saturday Reads: Epic Disasters and Russia Investigation NewsPosted: September 9, 2017
The news today is full of disasters, and it looks like that will continue over the weekend.
The New York Times has live updates on Hurricane Irma: Hurricane Irma Live Updates: ‘The Storm Is Here,’ Florida Governor Says.
Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida on Saturday, leaving a trail of death and destruction across the Caribbean and prompting one of the largest emergency evacuations in American history.
The storm shifted west, putting the Florida Keys in its cross hairs and prompting officials to open more shelters. By 7 a.m., the outer bands of Irma had begun moving into Miami-Dade County.
“Expect damaging winds and heavy rain,” the National Weather Service warned.
At least 20 people were confirmed dead by Friday night, when Irma made landfall in Cuba as a Category 5, lashing the island’s northern coast with a direct hit.
The hurricane was downgraded to Category 4 around 5 a.m. but was expected to strengthen before reaching Florida. About 5.6 million people — more than a quarter of the state’s population — have been ordered to leave their homes.
“The storm is here,” Gov. Rick Scott said at news conference Saturday morning, noting that 25,000 people had already lost power.
He said the storm surge could reach 12 feet. “This will cover your house,” he said. “You will not survive all this storm surge.”
The Boston Globe: How Hurricane Irma became so huge and destructive.
As Hurricane Irma barrels dangerously toward Florida, scientists say that a perfect mix of meteorological conditions has conspired over the past week to make the storm unusually large and powerful.
“You need just the right ingredients for a hurricane of this magnitude to last for so long,” said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University. “And Irma has had them all.”
Weather forecasters had already expected this summer to be an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean because of warmer-than-average ocean surface temperatures, which provide fuel for hurricanes, as well as weaker-than-average wind shear, which can help to dissipate storms.
But even in that context, Irma was special.
Read the rest at the Globe.
Also worth reading is this meditation on Florida’s history by Michael Gruenwald at Politico: A Requiem for Florida, the Paradise That Should Never Have Been.
ORLANDO, Fla.—The first Americans to spend much time in South Florida were the U.S. Army men who chased the Seminole Indians around the peninsula in the 1830s. And they hated it. Today, their letters read like Yelp reviews of an arsenic café, denouncing the region as a “hideous,” “loathsome,” “diabolical,” “God-abandoned” mosquito refuge.
“Florida is certainly the poorest country that ever two people quarreled for,” one Army surgeon wrote. “It was the most dreary and pandemonium-like region I ever visited, nothing but barren wastes.” An officer summarized it as “swampy, low, excessively hot, sickly and repulsive in all its features.” The future president Zachary Taylor, who commanded U.S. troops there for two years, groused that he wouldn’t trade a square foot of Michigan or Ohio for a square mile of Florida. The consensus among the soldiers was that the U.S. should just leave the area to the Indians and the mosquitoes; as one general put it, “I could not wish them all a worse place.” Or as one lieutenant complained: “Millions of money has been expended to gain this most barren, swampy, and good-for-nothing peninsula.”
Today, Florida’s southern thumb has been transformed into a subtropical paradise for millions of residents and tourists, a sprawling megalopolis dangling into the Gulf Stream that could sustain hundreds of billions of dollars in damage if Hurricane Irma makes a direct hit. So it’s easy to forget that South Florida was once America’s last frontier, generally dismissed as an uninhabitable and undesirable wasteland, almost completely unsettled well after the West was won. “How far, far out of the world it seems,” Iza Hardy wrote in an 1887 book called Oranges and Alligators: Sketches of South Florida. And Hardy ventured only as far south as Orlando, which is actually central Florida, nearly 250 miles north of Miami. Back then, only about 300 hardy pioneers lived in modern-day South Florida. Miami wasn’t even incorporated as a city until 1896. And even then an early visitor declared that if he owned Miami and hell, he would rent out Miami and live in hell.
Head over to Politico to read the rest.
Mexico is dealing with the aftermath of an earthquake. NBC News: Mexico Earthquake Death Toll Climbs as Dozens Sleep on Streets.
JUCHITAN, Mexico — The death toll from one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico rose to at least 61 early Saturday as workers scrambled to respond to the destruction just as Hurricane Katia struck its coastline.
The 8.1 quake off the southern Pacific coast just before midnight Thursday toppled hundreds of buildings in several states. Hardest-hit was Juchitan, Oaxaca, where 36 people died and a third of the city’s homes collapsed or were otherwise rendered uninhabitable, President Enrique Pena Nieto said late Friday in an interview with the Televisa news network.
In downtown Juchitan, the remains of brick walls and clay tile roofs cluttered streets as families dragged mattresses onto sidewalks to spend a second anxious night sleeping outdoors. Some were newly homeless, while others feared further aftershocks could topple their cracked adobe dwellings.
“We are all collapsed, our homes and our people,” said Rosa Elba Ortiz Santiago, 43, who sat with her teenage son and more than a dozen neighbors on an assortment of chairs. “We are used to earthquakes, but not of this magnitude.”
And that’s not all.
Even as she spoke, across the country, Hurricane Katia was roaring onshore north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state, pelting the region with intense rains and winds.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported Katia’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph, making it a Category 1 storm when it made landfall. And it rapidly weakened even further over land into a tropical storm. The center said Katia was expected to dissipate over the course of Saturday.
But it was still expected to bring life-threatening floods and storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico, though the extent of the storm’s impact was unclear in the dark of night.
CABARET, Haiti — Hurricane Jose, a powerhouse tropical cyclone barreling northwest toward the Caribbean islands already hammered by Irma, is now a “little weaker but still a dangerous Category 4 hurricane,” officials said.
The National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning that Jose’s maximum sustained wind speed is at 145 mph, as the storm churned toward the northern Leeward Islands. That’s down by 10 mph from late Friday, when officials said the hurricane was just shy of a Category 5 storm. Forecasters, however, cautioned that “some fluctuation in intensity, up or down, could occur during the next 24 hours.”
A hurricane warning is in effect for Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, also known as St. Barts.
Barbuda, which had been obliterated by Irma, has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning, the hurricane center said. The islands of Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius are also under a tropical storm warning.
Antigua and the British Virgin Islands are under a tropical storm watch.
Once Jose passes the northern Leeward Islands, Jose is projected to hook north and steadily lose muscle. It will, however, likely throw off tropical-storm strength weather felt Saturday night in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, which also sustained heavy damage during Irma.
The disasters caused by Hurricane Harvey have fallen off the front pages, but here’s an update at The New York Times: In Houston After the Storm, a City Split in Two.
HOUSTON — Natural disasters are capricious, carving a hopscotching path of destruction that can swamp one neighborhood but spare another, destroy a city block but leave one lone house untouched.
Across swaths of Houston, buzzing lawn mowers, crowded running paths and reopened Tex-Mex restaurants dishing out queso dip are the mile markers of a dried-out city hustling back to business.
But Nikki Thomason’s Houston feels like a different city altogether, one where Harvey never left.
Nearly two weeks had passed since the storm blew through, but on Thursday, brown, rancid water still filled the streets around her home in the Thornwood neighborhood, eddying around her front door and lapping at her living room windows.
“There’s two Houstons right now,” Ms. Thomason, 37, said. “We’re watching all these people begin to rebuild their lives and we’re stuck in this weird purgatory. We can’t even get our things.”
After a storm as widespread and devastating as Hurricane Harvey, which ground much of Texas to a dead stop for days and caused at least 60 deaths and up to $180 billion in damage, regular life in Houston now comes with a twinge of survivor’s guilt. It is only amplified by the knowledge that even as Houston cleans up, Florida is bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma.
In Russia investigation news, Bob Mueller has signaled his intention to question Trump current and former staffers. The Washington Post: Mueller gives White House names of 6 aides he expects to question in Russia probe.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the request.
Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, former press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.
Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, according to people familiar with the probe, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey. Also of interest is the White House’s initial inaction after warnings about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s December discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the United States….
Roughly four weeks ago, the special counsel’s team provided the White House with the names of the first group of current and former Trump advisers and aides whom investigators expect to question.
In addition to Priebus, Spicer and Hicks, Mueller has notified the White House he will probably seek to question White House counsel Don McGahn and one of his deputies, James Burnham. Mueller’s office has also told the White House that investigators may want to interview Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.
From expert on Russia Anne Applebaum at the Washington Post: The case for Trump-Russia collusion: We’re getting very, very close.
We now know the motives. In backing Donald Trump, Russia’s oligarchical class sought not only to disrupt U.S. politics but also to reverse sanctions, both those applied in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and those connected to the Magnitsky Act, which targeted officials involved in human rights violations. In seeking Russian support, Trump sought not only to become president but also to make money: Even as he launched his presidential campaign, he hoped to receive a major influx of money from a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow.
Along with the motives, we know the methods. As the New York Times has just graphically demonstrated, professional Russian Internet trolls, probably operating out of St. Petersburg, set up hundreds of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts during the election campaign. The trolls then posted thousands of fake stories, memes and slogans, supported anti-Clinton hashtags and narratives, and linked back to DCLeaks, the website that posted emails that Russian hackers stole from the Clinton campaign. The emails “revealed” by that hack were utterly banal. But the fake operatives said they contained “hidden truths,” hinted that they were part of a secret “Soros” operation, after liberal financier George Soros, and persuaded people to click. This is a method Russian operatives had used before. Previous elections, in Poland and Ukraine, demonstrated that stolen material — any stolen material — can be used to foment conspiracy theories that never die.
We know what happened next: The fake stories, memes and slogans moved from the network of Russian-sponsored “American” accounts into the networks of real Americans. Some, such as “pizzagate,” the theory that Hillary Clinton was part of a pedophile ring being run out of Washington pizza parlor, got a lot of attention. Others, such as the theory that Barack Obama founded the Islamic State, or the theory that the Google search engine was working on Clinton’s behalf, got less attention but were notable for another reason: They were not only promoted on the fake Russian network, which bought advertising in order to push them further, but also were promoted on open Russian news networks, including the Sputnik English-language news services. Afterwards, they were repeated, also openly, by candidate Trump.
Click on the link to read more.
So . . . what stories are you following today?